Kansas City Royals Top 20 Prospects for 2015
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+. Perhaps I’m just in love with what we saw in the fall, but Finnegan looks like the real thing to me and ready to thrive in the majors. I’d use him as a starter personally. Age 21, looks like one of the early steals in the 2014 draft.
2) Sean Manaea, LHP, Grade B+: The strong finish at Wilmington seems like a good sign and there’s no question about the stuff. Like Finnegan, he can be a three-pitch lefty with power stuff, although his command isn’t as refined as Finnegan’s. He was also a steal in the draft. Age 22.
3) Raul Mondesi, SS, Grade B: Grade A tools but weak skills, especially on offense. Overmatched badly by Carolina League pitching (.211/.256/.354) but played much of the season at age 18, the Royals pushing him beyond what his skills could handle. Horrible pitch recognition and over-aggressive approach hold the bat back. He is, of course, extremely young and scouts see an All-Star shortstop in the tools. Would rank at number one or two on a pure tools list.
4) Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Grade B: The huge caveat here is health; we have to see how he recovers from shoulder surgery. This spot is very provisional depending on how rehab goes. Number two starter with stuff and command when healthy, but that is a huge if.
5) Miguel Almonte, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B-. Good fastball and change-up, just 21 years old, but High-A hitters exposed his mediocre curveball. Has good control in terms of avoiding walks (101/32 K/BB) but command within the strike zone still needs work. Still has mid-rotation upside, though some talk he could move to pen eventually.
6) Hunter Dozier, 3B, Grade B-: Borderline B. 2013 first-round pick looked great in High-A (.295/.397/.429) but was overmatched after moving up to Double-A (.209/.303/.312) for no clear reason. Defense slipped too. Rebounded with decent showing in Arizona Fall League. Age 23, still the most advanced bat in the farm system but won’t pressure Mike Moustakas in 2015.
7) Foster Griffin, LHP, Grade B-: Age 19, first-round pick this past June, could end up like Danny Duffy if all goes well. Doesn’t throw quite as hard as Duffy did at the same stage, but has better mechanics and pitchability than Duffy did when drafted.
8) Christian Colon, 2B, Grade C+: Age 25, does not have the same athletic tools as guys below him on this list, but a polished instinctive player whose reputation has actually been handicapped by being an early first round pick. If he’d been drafted in the fifth round, everyone would love him as a scrappy gamer-type sleeper. Won’t hit .333 in a full season but could hit .280 with some OBP, steals, doubles, steady glove at second base.
9) Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Grade C+: Age 21, classic right field tools with raw power, strong throwing arm, but hit a lifeless .230/.302/.309 in Double-A. Not hopeless with the strike zone, but swing doesn’t translate strength into power. Still young of course.
10) Bubba Starling, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, retains world-class tools, speed, arm, defense, raw power, but had another poor season with the bat (.218/.304/.338) in High-A. High risk that he will never hit enough to play regularly, but the tools are so good that no one will give up soon, especially given lack of hitters in this system and first-round local investment status.
11) Scott Blewett, RHP, Grade C+: Age 18, drafted in the second round last June from high school in New York state, 6-6 cold-weather arm who already touches 94 and should get faster, secondary stuff understandably needs refinement.
12) Elier Hernandez, OF, Grade C+: Age 19, tool shed hit .264/.296/.393 in Low-A. Like Bonifacio and Starling, he has all the physical ability needed to be a strong regular if not a star, but his approach is quite raw in most phases of the game. Four or five-year project even if he pans out.
13) Christian Binford, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, pitchability right-hander doesn’t throw hard but wins due to stellar command, posted 2.88 ERA with 139/22 K/BB in 141 innings between High-A, Double-A, Triple-A. Many observers remain skeptical and would slot him lower than this, but you could rank him as high as ninth depending on if you want to emphasize the sabermetrics. This spot is a compromise.
14) Orlando Calixte, SS, Grade C+: Age 22, another toolsy type, hit .241/.288/.374 in his second year in Double-A. Good throwing arm and range stand out, always seems to make an impressive play in person but the stats have never been very good. Like some of these other guys, he has been pushed quickly and the skills have not caught up with the tools.
15) Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B-1B, Grade C+: Age 22, performed adequately in high minors (.274/.339/.413) and still draws notice for his offensive potential and youth. Defense has deteriorated and he may wind up at first base, which would dramatically increase pressure on the bat.
16) Sam Selman, LHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Age 24, posted 3.87 ERA with 87/49 K/BB in 93 innings in Double-A. Lively arm from left side, fastball in the 90s with life but secondary pitches and command remain erratic. Even small improvement in command would get him a big league trial or make him an attractive trade chit.
17) Chase Vallot, C, Grade C: Borderline C+: HIGH CEILING ALERT: Age 18, supplemental first round pick, scouts love his power potential but contact issues (81 strikeouts in 186 at-bats, that’s horrible) resulted in .215/.329/.403 line in rookie ball. Also very raw on defense. Another long-term upside project.
18) Glenn Sparkman, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+ SLEEPER. A tentative grade that isn’t final. Like Binford, Sparkman puts up stellar numbers (1.56 ERA, 117/25 K/BB in 121 innings in High-A, 94 hits) without lighting up radar guns, impressing scouts, or showing up on prospect lists. Equally successful on road and at home last year, so this wasn’t all Wilmington park effects. Age 22. Could rank as high as 14.
19) Ryan O’Hearn, 1B-OF, Grade C: Borderline C+. Age 21, eighth round pick from Sam Houston State tore up Pioneer League (.361/.444/.590) with good scouting reports as well. I want to see him at higher levels before totally buying in; many advanced college hitters tear up the Pioneer but can’t replicate against better pitching.
20) Lane Adams, OF, Grade C: You could put most of the Grade C guys below in this spot but I’ll highlight Adams, who could have some sleeper fantasy value due to his speed (38 steals last year, 133 out of 158 in his career). Age 25, good athlete, won’t hit for a high average but has some pop to go with the wheels, hit .269/.352/.427 in Double-A and the Royals like him.
OTHER GRADE C: Angel Baez, RHP; Aaron Brooks, RHP; Samir Duenez, 1B; Jonathan Dziedzic, LHP; Brett Eibner, OF; Zane Evans, C; Pedro Fernandez, RHP; Cam Gallagher, C; Marten Gasparini, SS; Terrance Gore, OF; John Lamb, LHP; Whit Merrifield, UT; Paulo Orlando, OF; Julio Pinto, RHP; Frank Schwindel, 1B-C; Eric Skoglund, LHP; Niklas Stephenson, RHP; J.C. Sulbaran, RHP; Dominique Taylor, OF; Ramon Torres, INF; Corey Toups, INF; Robinson Yambati, RHP.
The Royals got to the World Series and the main core is young enough to project continued success for the future. The farm system currently looks average, however, with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.
The organization shows continued depth on the pitching side: Finnegan looks ready to me, Sean Manaea isn’t that far behind, and there’s a nice mixture of arm strength guys and pitchability talents who could help fill out the rotation or spare bullpen spots. The front office has shown willingness to take risks on guys with health issues in the draft, a gamble which looks like it will work out with Finnegan and Manaea. Kyle Zimmer’s inability to avoid doctors is disappointing but that’s why you collect as many arms as you can. Overall, the farm system has established a nice pipeline of pitching.
The problem here is hitting: there isn’t much. There are plenty of tools: Mondesi, Starling, Bonifacio, Hernandez, Calixte. . .these guys all look sharp in uniform and would look great in physical showcases but don’t help their team score many runs. That may or may not get better. Loud tools (Gore’s speed) and overall athleticism (Eibner, Adams) have been emphasized and the results have been outstanding defensively at the big league level, but you have to cross home plate, too.
Mondesi is the most physically talented of the group but has also been pushed too rapidly for his skills to cope thus far. The theory is rather Darwinian sink-and-swim and could teach the kids how to adapt and cope with failure, but the history of similar teams pushing raw players too quickly doesn’t strike me as promising.
The Royals have added some polished college bats (Dozier, Evans, Schwindel) in recent classes, but they’ve also struggled for the most part. Whether this is evidence of a systemic problem with hitter development remains to be seen. O’Hearn looked very promising and Corey Toups has sleeper potential, but we need to see what happens outside of Idaho Falls.